Depending on how you look at such things, this business of going and paying respects to various relatives can be a unique pleasure or a royal pain-in-the-backside. Generally, I have a good, positive attitude towards it. If they live really far away and the child is in a particularly cranky state then I get a little worried, but otherwise it can be quite good fun, in my opinion. Of course if they live close by, I go alone, it is unannounced so the chance of being stuffed to my face with a meal is low, it can be quite more pleasurable.
So when aunt asked if my mom would join her in such a visit to an old cousin of theirs, and mom refused stating a billion reasons, I immediately jumped up. The child was asleep. I snuck out a dress (cannot visit in Capri pants bought a million years ago), and changed in the shoe foyer and off we went. Aunt sponsored the mandatory fruit selection to take with us, refused to indulge my insistence of walking, and confidently stepped out of the auto saying it is one of these three houses here. I had my doubts. She had not come here for five years she said. ‘Oh well, if we don’t find it we can eat the mangoes ourselves,’ said I.
When we found the typical Iyengar marks on the door we coolly rung the bell. ‘Who is it?’ they said from upstairs. ‘Its me,’ said aunt, then added her name, and who we wanted to meet, as an afterthought. We were ushered into a chaotic receiving room. It was spacious in an old fashioned way. Contained cane furniture. When I declared my identity, I was put on the comfortable chair, under the fan. An aged relative I remembered as a quirky fellow in love for decades with a film star was hanging around, looking vague. He refused to fall for aunt’s baits. Maintained a near silence, staring into the distance the entire duration of our visit.
The lady we were visiting is a formidable force in the family. Has lived abroad for years. Has made a comfortable, even rich living in all these decades after the tragic loss of her husband in a mining incident, for herself, her three children, and sundry siblings and other relatives attached to her. When I was younger, I was pretty scared of her. She shoots questions and expects answers. She does not tolerate shyness, wussiness, crying and what not. Of course now that I have lived this life and have pondered so much on meaning of life etc. it was a great meeting. We got on well. My aunt expressed surprise at my ability to have meaningful conversation. Pshaw. Drawing room conversation with a garrulous older person, how tough can it be? They tried to feed us some random snacks, threatened us with dinner. Arthritis, traffic, autorickshaws, and my dear grandfather (passed on four years ago) were the hot topics.
It was really nice to visit. I know I can talk to anyone, as long as the pressure to watch out for the kid or to talk in tamizh that Chennai folks can understand is not there. But there is something more when they are relatives. An additional bit of comfort perhaps. Having in common people we both love and respect perhaps. I even did not mind much that she expressed extreme surprise that I had a child and that I was past thirty. Its fine, I accept it now, the only way I can look my age is to wear a sari all the time. Well, maybe when I am past forty. Few years to go!
I visited lots more relatives too this time. It was great fun, I laughed a lot, drank a lot of different teas and coffees, bought mangoes on the way always, and returned home with loads of little boxes to put kumkum in. Must remember to collect myself some of those and hand it to the women who pass through my house. It’s a tradition involving giving, with no expectations in return, I like it!